As Sri Lanka inches towards its parliamentary elections, racism has once again reared its ugly head.Racism perhaps has been one of the most widely discussed topics this year, second to only that of the Coronavirus.
Whether it's Sri Lanka or even the United States, the political agendas of certain politicians and political parties often drives people to spread hate and divide the country’s people along communal lines.
While Sri Lanka gears up for elections, a number of other countries around the world will also be heading to the polls in the coming months. The Presidential election in the United States of America will be held in November while New Zealand also will hold its general election in September. August 5 has been confirmed as the election date in Sri Lanka where close to 16 million voters will head to the polls to elect 196 MPs from 22 multi-member electoral districts. 29 more will be allocated from parties and independent groups in proportion to their share of the national vote bringing the total MPs to 225.
In Sri Lanka racism has now become synonymous with elections and politics in general. While a number of topics are often discussed during the pre election period patriotism is one of the more popular ones. However as the saying goes patriotism becomes the last resort for many politicians hoping to sweep into power. Along with patriotism, politicians more often than not attempt to instill unfounded fears in the psyche of the people in order to appear as the saviours that can deliver them from these issues, somewhat of a panacea for these fears. As a result racism and violence is even prevalent leading up to the August polls. In midst of the chaos certain political figures have taken to openly talking about the country’s brutal war which ended a decade ago all the while as the wounds left behind remain unhealed. Opportunity after opportunity to heal this rift has been squandered.
Even though Mahinda Rajapaksa was once presented with the golden opportunity to heal the minds of the people he too appeared disinterested. As a result the root causes of the war, the social issues that gave rise to the armed conflict have been left unanswered. The effort of the previous Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government in this regard too seemed lacklustre. The government proved to be a failure while it also failed the people that had placed their trust in the government that promised change. They also ignored the mandate of the people. In reality no lessons seemed to have been learnt from the prolongued violence faced by the country as a whole.
While the situation remains thus, the world around us has increasingly shifted its focus towards racism, police brutality, discrimination in the recent months. Protests have been launched by ordinary people in major cities around the globe. Even as a global pandemic is spreading rapidly across the world, it went on to prove that even amidst this racism continues to harm the social fabric of societies. Existing for centuries, the world has failed to find a cure to raicsm that appears to have a firm hold on even developed nations.
But perhaps the answer to racism lies within ourselves rather than with the world’s governments. However we seem to have failed to discover it. We ourselves appear to be the obstacle to finding a lasting solution.
It is evident that a global pandemic such as Covid 19 sees no religious or racial divides. It does not identify the rich from the poor. Neither can it differenciate between various colours of skin. Privilege cannot help one in the face of a pandemic. Prince Charles the next in line for the throne of the United Kingdom was infected. So did royalty from the rulers of Saudi. Princess Maria Teresa of Spain also fell victim to the disease. It was and continues to be immaterial as to who you are or where you come from. The pandemic somewhat ironically treated everyone equally.
But even during the pandemic racism and discrimination towards certain groups found its way into societies that were already reeling from its effects. From conducting burials of those who lost their lives to the disease to even providing patients with the necessary care, racism and discirmination appeared to play a part in some countries. Human dignity was unfortunately neglected on many occasions.
Last week UN Human High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet noted that members of the Muslim minority are being stigmatized and being subjected to hate speech associating them with COVID-19 in both Sri Lanka and India.
In Bulgaria, Roma people have been stigmatised as a public health threat, with some local authorities setting up checkpoints around Roma settlements to enforce lockdowns, she said, addressing the 44th session of the Human Rights Council.
In Pakistan, hate speech against religious minorities remains virulent. Stigmatization and threats against people presumed to be infected by COVID-19 have also been reported in Haiti, Iraq and many other countries she noted.
"Six months after the first cases were detected it is clear that this epidemic threatens both peace and development- and that it calls for more civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights not less" Human Rights Chief added.
But nevertheless attacks on marginalized and various religious groups continue as recently as the last few weeks. However it is very unfortunate that all leaders from those communities are silent. Even the politicians representing them are maintaining a stoic silence or perhaps they are not being given enough space in mainstream media.